The Yes Album: 50 Years Later

If you are a Yes fan, this is a must-have album. This was their third album release and the one that broke them into the big-time. The Yes Album and the follow-up, Fragile, arguably their two best albums, were released in 1971. Many will argue that Close to the Edge is their best album and I cannot argue that. Think about it, two classic albums of original songs released in the same year.

This is next in my series of classic Yes albums. I am backtracking music influential in my life. The “album” is a disappearing art form, and experience.

The line-up on The Yes Album consisted of: Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars), Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Bill Bruford (drums). The band has frequently changed members through the years. This was the first album with Steve Howe on guitar, having replaced Peter Banks. This album was the last with Tony Kaye, who would be replaced by Rick Wakeman.

Going into sessions for The Yes Album, the band was finding its sound. Their previous two albums included several covers and no clear direction on songwriting. These two albums are interesting, but feel incomplete. Anderson was the main songwriter, but that would change on The Yes Album with Howe and Squire helping carry the load. The band would have its greatest success when Squire, Howe and Wakeman contributed the progressive-rock musical pieces that would be connected with Anderson’s lyrics and melodies. I believe the combination of Howe and Squire came up with the adventurous movement of soaring musical runs as they complimented each other on guitar and bass.  Squire played bass like it was a lead guitar, something that John Entwistle of the Who was also doing.

The Yes Album was bold, the lyrics were visionary and reflective of the science fiction/fantasy boom in literature. The length of their songs got longer, consisting of different musical sections seamlessly joined together. Three of the songs on this album are classics and fan favorites in concert.  Yes took advantage of the progressive-rock musical format of long-form, blended styles, taking advantage of superior musicianship to lengthen the instrumental sections.

Side one

“Yours Is No Disgrace” Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Bill Bruford 9:41

The first minute and twenty seconds announces a robust and adventurous musical style, based on repeating riffs, powerful bass lines and soaring guitar solos, this is not how songs traditionally unfold, but this is a new era. The vocal interlude is quite typical of what you will hear on upcoming Yes songs. Howe is immediately in the spotlight on this song as fans are treated to a very different style of guitar playing.  He layers this song with melodies, counter melodies and pulsating riffs. Bruford was never a traditional rock drummer, he injected complex rhythms, more jazz than pop beats, and he would eventually leave the group for more challenging opportunities. This song, maybe not their greatest, is still one of their most familiar and set the stage for the next several albums.

“Clap” (instrumental) Howe 3:17 Recorded live in 1970, a solo acoustic guitar piece, is more like Leo Kottke’s country/blues playing than a rock band.

“Starship Trooper” Anderson, Howe, Squire 9:29

a. “Life Seeker” The opening riff and vocals signal this is going to be a thrilling song. Howe’s guitar work is incredibly good.

b. “Disillusion” Squire wrote this part, it is features great acoustic guitar work by Howe, that changes to electric guitar and full band.

c. “Würm” The past part, instrumental, was brought to the group by Howe, it is a repeating riff that the band solos off of as the song builds in musical intensity.

Side two

“I’ve Seen All Good People”  Anderson, Squire 6:55

a. “Your Move” An exquisite acoustic and vocal piece, an instantly recognizable light and airy song. Anderson’s layered lead vocals are part of the trademark sound. Squire and Howe join in with harmony vocals. Fine organ work by Kaye.

b. “All Good People” The second section is an upbeat, rocking guitar riffing version of the previous part of the song. Howe’s solos are impressive.

“A Venture” Anderson 3:20 Perhaps the least well known song on the album. The melody is fairly simple and repeats, but the band injects some magic into the arrangement. Howe fires off some solo as well as Kaye on piano, and Bruford/Squire inject a pulsating beat.

“Perpetual Change” Anderson, Squire 8:57 The song begins with a dynamic riff pattern, then slows down for Anderson’s layered vocals. Howe contributes a beautiful solo in the bridge prior to an intense instrumental section. This song has more than the usual number of time signature changes.

The album sold well and charted in the top 40 in America, eventually selling over a million copies, and most importantly, established Yes on FM radio. A single, “Your Move” was released, but the entire “I’ve Seen All Good People” was often played.


2 thoughts on “The Yes Album: 50 Years Later

  1. Totally agree, if you’re a Yes fan this album is essential. A lot of us dug it in high school and college, back when progressive rock was huge. I eventually lost interest in the band, but have fond memories of dorm room The Yes Album listening sessions. You’re also right that album listening is a disappearing experience. People don’t have the sustained concentration required for entire LP absorption, due to the choppy, instant-gratification provided by digital and social media. My solution is to set aside an hour or so every Saturday night for one or two LPs. It stimulates my music-appreciation muscles!

    Like

    1. That’s a fine idea. I might start that practice this afternoon. It is hard to describe the thrill of finding a new release at the record store, and put it on the turntable for a listen while you study the album art and read the liner notes.

      Liked by 1 person

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